On our planet, children are the victims of hunger and dehydration most in the public eye. Think about it – how often have you seen photos of starving, dehydrated children in third-world countries with distended bellies or their ribs sticking out, their arms looking sickly and thin? Those children and like them who are undernourished have up to 160 days of illness/year, and inadequate nutrition is the primary cause. In fact, lack of nutrition plays a part in causing half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year, or, approximately five million deaths. And undernutrition only makes already-acquired diseases, like measles and malaria, even worse.
Our bodies can actually go three weeks without food, but they cannot go more than three days without water. This is why it is imperative that children all over the world have access to clean drinking water. Right now, over 800 million people around the world do not have that access – that comes out to one in every eight people worldwide. Over twice that many (2.5 billion) do not have access to any sanitation.
People who are forced to drink or wash with contaminated water become exposed to many different diseases, including but not limited to malaria, typhoid, dysentery, and cholera. When combined with HIV/AIDS (which can be often the case in places like Sub-Saharan Africa), a child’s immune system is unable to fight off illnesses that can be very common, like diarrhea.
Diseases obtained from poor water or lack thereof claim approximately 5,000 children, or one child every twenty seconds. Some of these children in third world countries have to walk for hours every day to get to the nearest water source – because of this, they are unable to attend school. Those who do have access to water, do not always get clean water, free of impurities – there are 443 million school days lost each year due to water-related illness. And most of the 150 million children currently missing school are female.
Children with diarrhea in these areas are at risk of dying of dehydration. The main solution to prevent death is rehydration by early and appropriate fluid replacement; oral rehydration salts also help, as well as zinc treatments, though children in the poorest countries have limited access to the aforementioned options.
But how can one help a child in need of clean drinking water, when many of us are thousands of miles away? The good news is, we can get involved and make a difference – it’s as simple as donating water through monetary means, or buying products that will donate a portion of their proceeds to a non-profit that provides water for people in third world countries that do not normally have access to clean, healthy drinking water.
Often, people in third world countries get their water from surface level water sources, like ponds, lakes, rivers, or streams. But animals and humans both deposit their waste in these water sources, so the water can is often contaminated and causes diseases; even if this wasn’t the case, surface level water should be purified before using.
There are, however, ways to purify surface level water for people in developing countries: through filters, boiling, chlorination, rainwater-catching, and wells.
People can use filters individually or throughout their community. Household filters can even be homemade devices through the use of a slow sand filter, which is a type of sustainable technology that uses sand and does not add chemicals to the water. It can be made using recycled materials (a pipe system with drilled holes, gravel, and sand) and can operate without electricity.
Boiling water is another simple yet effective way of purifying, and is considered by the Centers for Disease Control to be the best method of getting pure drinking water. By boiling water, you’re killing disease-inducing microorganisms that can’t survive very hot temperatures. The water only needs to be boiled for one minute to be sanitized, unless you live in a part of the world that is higher than 6,562 feet in altitude – then, the water should be boiled for at least three minutes, to be safe.
Chlorination happens to be the best innovation in purifying drinking water. Chlorine kills disease-causing organisms in water – it acts as a disinfectant. It is also affordable and widely available, making it a great option for water purification.
People in third world countries can use their roofs to catch rainwater; in particular, the area where the rainwater runs down. It can be caught and drained into a storage system. From there, the water can be stored and saved for future purification.
Digging wells can provide clean drinking water for an entire community. Since the water source is underground, it remains mostly uncontaminated by the general populace. Wells should be dug further away from a water source, so that sand can help filter the water before it reaches the well.
World hunger and dehydration may not be solved by Miss America or you and me, but we can take steps to aid in the world’s recovery process, whether by donation, commerce, or traveling to sub-Saharan Africa to help dig a well – every effort matters, great or small.
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